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Archive for July 2012

Jul/12

28

“Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality”

Cross-posted on the Corner:

In an attempt to counter the growing encroachment of liberalism into his realm, Czar Nicholas I (reigned 1825-55) argued for an empire based on the three pillars of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality”, an idea that came to define the thinking of Russian reactionaries for the rest of the nineteenth century.

It seems to be doing so again.

Consider this from the Economist:

One February morning, members of… a Russian feminist punk band, wearing neon-coloured balaclavas, burst into Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to sing a lewd and acerbic “punk prayer” called “Our Lady, chase Putin out”. Three of the women—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich—were arrested and charged with hooliganism. They have been kept in jail since March. Their trial begins on July 30th, and if found guilty they could be sentenced to as many as seven years in prison.

I have omitted the band’s name in an attempt to maintain standards around here, but also to avoid irritating the googling masses who might be lured to this respectable Corner only to leave very disappointed indeed.

Let’s be clear. The role played by the Russian Orthodox Church in bolstering Putin’s regime has brought its activities into the realm where they are a legitimate subject of political debate and, indeed, protest, but this protest was a step-many steps-too far particularly so in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a cathedral blown up on the orders of Stalin, and then rebuilt as a testimony to the notion that some sins of the Soviet past could be put right.

But….a possible seven years?

The Economist continues:

The case could hardly have gone so far without direction from the Kremlin. In recent months, as Vladimir Putin, the president, has faced unprecedented opposition from the more modern and Westernised of Russia’s citizens, he has set out to marginalise that constituency while building up the forces of conservatism and xenophobia.

The Russian Orthodox church, which has long found itself in a symbiotic embrace with Mr Putin, has become a central pillar of legitimacy in this political struggle. Svetlana Solodovnik, who studies the Orthodox church, says that religious leaders work “to nurture a paternalistic mood” among the population and “to teach people to rely on the state and to be grateful for its care”. The trial…provides an opportunity to use the language of moral outrage to paint those opposed to Mr Putin and the Russian government as louche and untrustworthy, the embodiments of exactly the sort of outside forces that seek to defile Russia and its traditions.

Religious and bureaucratic tongues have become blurred. Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the church, said that [the] unsanctioned performance in the cathedral is “a sin that will be punished in this life and the next”. The official text of the indictment from the prosecutor’s office speaks of the trio’s “blasphemous acts” that inflicted “weighty suffering on those persons who find their spiritual home in the service of Orthodox ideals”.

It has even been claimed that Satan may be some sort of co-conspirator.

In prison since March. Enough is enough. Free the three.

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Jul/12

23

Free the Pussy Rioters!

Via the New York Times:

MOSCOW — When four young women in balaclavas performed a crude anti-Putin song on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February, it seemed like just one more episode in a season of audacious, absurdist and occasionally offensive protest.

Instead, the case of the young punk rockers, whose group is called Pussy Riot, is becoming a bellwether event in the Russian capital, signaling an end to the chilly tolerance the Kremlin displayed in response to the winter’s large demonstrations.
The three women arrested after the performance have been held in custody for more than four months, a term that was extended on Friday by six months, through next January. They could be sent to prison for seven years.

Preliminary hearings in the case offered some of the most striking courtroom images since the trial of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, which took place in the same building. While that case tested Russians’ feelings toward a billionaire businessman, this one picks as its targets slender young women with hooded sweatshirts and Twitter accounts — avatars of the protest movement itself.

Stupid form of protest, but sledgehammers and nuts come to mind.

And then there’s this:

The criminal prosecution of the three women — Maria Alyokhina, 24; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 — rests on the notion that their performance incited religious hatred. That argument is supported by Orthodox activists who say the women are Satanists. Ten witnesses have said they suffered “moral damage” as a result and are considered victims in the court proceeding, as is standard in Russia. One, a cathedral security guard, “had trouble sleeping after the crime in the cathedral,” said his lawyer, Mikhail Kuznetsov, in an interview with the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti.

The band, Mr. Kuznetsov said, “is only a tiny visible tip of the iceberg of extremists who are trying to destroy the thousand-year-old basis of the Russian Orthodox Church, provoking a schism, and using lies to lead the flock not to God but to Satan.”
…A poll released on Friday by the independent Levada Center found that a substantial proportion of Muscovites, 37 percent, took a positive view of the prosecution, and 50 percent had a negative view.

“When it began to turn into this fantastic biblical story, social attitudes toward the girls changed radically,” said Marat Guelman, a former political consultant and gallery owner whose projects have been denounced by religious activists.

“Most of the population now are not so much talking about what Pussy Riot did as much as their fear that these people who want to introduce some kind of Orthodox Taliban to Russia, that they will take power,” Mr. Guelman said. “So now I think the authorities are making a big mistake, taking revenge in this way. Society will not support this.”

Whether he is right will become clear only gradually, as state-controlled television reports on the prosecution of the three women, two of them mothers of small children. So far, the case has aroused intense interest only on the extremes of the political spectrum, a fact reflected on Friday outside the courthouse, where protesters wearing white ribbons tried to shout down Orthodox activists carrying Bibles…

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Jul/12

23

Balkanization Watch

Via the New York Post:

Brooklyn has lost its right to bare arms. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish business owners are lashing out at customers at dozens of stores in Williamsburg, trying to ban sleeveless tops and plunging necklines from their aisles. It’s only the latest example of the Hasidic community trying to enforce their strict religious laws for everyone who lives near their New York enclave.

“No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Neckline Allowed in the Store,” declare the English/Spanish signs that appear in stores throughout the Hasidic section of the hipster haven. The retailers do not just serve Jews — they include stores for hardware, clothes and electronics. Hebrew speakers are also put on notice: “Entry here in modest dress only,” the signs read. When a Post reporter visited Lee Avenue in a sleeveless dress, some store owners stared at her shoulders, while others refused to look her in the face. The policy, an outgrowth of the sect’s 200-year tradition of dressing modestly, is rankling non-Hasidic residents.

“Religious freedom is one thing, but we do not have the right to enforce our beliefs on someone else,” charged Bob Kim, 39, comfy in tight jeans and a T-shirt.

“Why should they be able to say that on their signs? It’s not OK,” added Hana Dagostin, 32, wearing a sleeveless top.
“People should be able to wear what . . . makes them comfortable,” said Fabian Vega, 34, also wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
Store owners and managers defended the dress code.

“We have our way of life, and this is the way we want everyone to respect that,” said Shalom Cooper, a manager at Glauber’s Cuisine on Division Avenue.

Orthodox men typically wear suits and black hats in public, while women dress in long-sleeved blouses and below-the-knee skirts.

“We’re not concerned about the way women dress in Manhattan — but we are concerned with bringing 42nd Street to this neighborhood,” said Mark Halpern, who is Orthodox and lives in Williamsburg.

Some called the policy un-American.

“It’s further evidence of this era’s move toward Balkanization in the United States,” said Marci Hamilton, a First Amendment scholar at Cardozo School of Law. “It’s no longer sufficient that they have shared norms among themselves, they are increasingly trying to impose their norms on the rest of the culture.”

The dress code appears to be the latest effort by the Hasidic community to separate itself from the greater population. There’s an Orthodox ambulance service and a private police force called the Shomrim. On the B110, a privately operated public bus line that runs through Orthodox Williamsburg and Borough Park, women are told to sit in back, also in accordance with Orthodox customs. The neighborhood embarked on a successful 2009 crusade to remove bike lanes from a 14-block stretch of Bedford Avenue — fearful of the scantily clad gals who would pedal through. Even Hillary Clinton was caught up in the mix last year — her image in the situation room the night of Osama bin Laden’s killing was scrubbed from a Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper because readers might have been offended by a woman’s presence in a sea of men.

“There’s a movement toward insularity among religious groups. It’s dangerous for tolerance, and it’s also dangerous for peace,” Hamilton said.

City lawyer Gabriel Taussig said the signs appeared kosher, provided they don’t “impermissibly discriminate based upon gender, religion or some other protected class.”

But the dress code covers up a bigger problem, according to Shulem Deen, a former Hasid who now lives in Bensonhurst.

“It goes to the basic human value of empathizing with others that are not like you, and I think the Hasidim have no awareness of such a concept,” he said

It’s up to those who own the stores to set the dress code for their customers, but it’s difficult not to feel a little depressed by this tale. E Pluribus Unum and all that…

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Jul/12

23

When Leaps of Faith Go Awry

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Via the Guardian:

During a four-day gathering in California entitled Unleash the Power Within, the famed lifestyle guru [Tony Robbins] encouraged participants to take a leap of faith and test their luck on the red-hot surface. Emergency services were called to deal with the fall-out, as many in the group suffered second- and third-degree burns. Three needed hospital treatment, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

“I heard wails of pain, screams of agony” one witness told the newspaper.

“First one person, then a couple minutes later another one, and there was just a line of people walking on that fire. It was just bizarre, man,” Jonathan Correll, 25, said.

The injured fire walkers were among thousands who attended the Robbins event. As part of the multi-day seminar, a crowd were led to a park where 12 lanes of hot coals had been laid out.A brochure for the Unleash the Power Within event suggests that once you overcome the fear of walking on coals of between “1,200 and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit” you can “conquer the other fires of your life with ease”.

A spokesman for the San Jose fire department told the San Jose Mercury News that it does not recommend that people undertake the endeavour.

Good advice.

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Jul/12

22

A Miserable Chapter

Via Der Spiegel International:

Until into the 1990s, doctors and nuns in Spain allegedly stole newborn babies and sold them to couples hoping to adopt. The vast scope of this lucrative baby-snatching network is only now coming to light as courts heed victims’ calls for investigations and possible trials….

After the victory of the rebels under General Francisco Franco over the Republicans, the organized theft of babies became a political tool, a way of depriving leftists of their offspring. In 1941, Franco enacted a law that made it permissible to erase evidence of the ancestry of such children by changing their last names.

Most of these stolen children were entrusted to the care of Catholics loyal to the regime. The aim behind this was to rid an entire people of the “Marxist gene,” at least according to the theories of Antonio Vallejo-Nájera, the national psychiatrist of Francoist Spain, that were widespread at the time.

This specter of a Spanish national Catholicism even survived Franco’s death in 1975. Nuns, especially members of the Hijas de la Caridad, or Daughters of Charity, whose training was more religious than intellectual, worked in the maternity wards of hospitals and in baby nurseries. They blindly obeyed their mothers superior and priests who, in turn, decided who deserved a child and who didn’t. As a result, what were generally young or unmarried women became victims of baby theft. After all, the reasoning went, according to the Church’s teachings, these mothers were living “in sin.”

But even rising prosperity and Spain’s transformation into a democratic constitutional state apparently did not protect young mothers from this religious mafia of baby thieves. What may have begun as an act of misguided altruism appears to have grown into a business, in which adoptive parents allegedly paid up to a million pesetas, or the equivalent of about €20,000 ($25,000), for a child. Indeed, in a society that essentially considered it the legal right of married couples to have children, there was great demand for babies…

A deeply disturbing story, to say the very least.

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Jul/12

21

The Limitlessness of Self-Importance

Plus a little victimhood by proxy…

A Pagan Soccer Mom writes:

Friday, September 21 has been declared Covered in Light International Day. This event has been started by the group Covered in Light, a group of Pagan/Polytheist women who choose to cover their hair as a part of their religious observance. As stated on their website:

“ In no way are we oppressed, objectified, suppressed, or made to feel like a second class citizen. The covering of our hair is a sacred act of devotion to our chosen Deities and therefore is approached with devotion and reverence.

We welcome all women from all walks of life to join our Sisterhood if they feel led to do so. Trans-women and women of other faiths who are Pagan/Polytheist friendly and who embrace the Divine Mother are also welcome amongst us with open arms.”

Covered in Light International Day encourages women to “put yourself in their scarves” by wearing a headscarf in support of women of any religion who choose to veil. This act not only shows support of women who choose to veil, it is also a stand against the discrimination faced by so many women who cover.

Where to begin?

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Another non-Muslim demonstrates how easy it is to inflict mayhem on American civilians.  If we were teeming with home-grown (or immigrant) radicalised Islamists, as U.S. Representative Peter King and his orbiting neocon activists maintain, we should be seeing such attacks on a regular basis.   Yet we’ve been saddled with an entire federal agency dedicated to protecting us against a threat that is even rarer than these occasional outbreaks of purely domestic insanity.  Of course, the punditry class is going to go into overdrive interpreting the Aurora shootings as a symptom of their favorite cause.  Until we see more of a trend in such sporadic shootings, however, I would chaulk the tragic loss of life up to random and meaningless awfulness that is very difficult to prevent.    

I also don’t quite understand why we consider colocated deaths  more noteworthy than serial deaths.  About 80 people a day died in traffic collisions in 2010, yet no one bothers much about such predicatable loss of life.  Do people assume a homicide risk more when they get on the road than when they go to a movie theater?  Perhaps.  But the death is the same.   There were 13,636 homicide victims in 2009, or nearly 40 a day, half of them black, half white or Hispanic.  Many of those victims were as guilty as their killers, but by no means all.  Admittedly, the Aurora shootings comprise a large fraction of that daily average, but again, most of those background killings will go unattended to by the media. 

 

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Jul/12

15

Bewitched

Via Guernica, another reminder of the permanence of superstition, the reinvention of the past (the Goddess?) and the magpie “spirituality” of the West:

Photographer Katarzyna Majak shoots her subjects in vivid color, posing each one as a healer, a goddess, or a queen. These Polish women combine the rituals of the Cherokee, Sufis, Daoists, Wiccans, Druids, and others in search of greater spiritual meaning. With these photos, Majak looks at the prejudice against witchery, the acceptance of aging, and a growing appreciation for feminine divinity.

Guernica: What do you mean by “the women’s time”? From a quote with your interview with Maria Ela, one of your portrait subjects, she says she “thinks it’s a time of transformation,” that she has “to let go of the feeling of being victimized by men,” in order to gain awareness of the “cycle of the Goddess that helped me let go of thinking ‘against.’”

Katarzyna Majak: So, it is the time when more and more people, especially women, resonate with the energy of the Earth’s upheaval. They do not want to think “against” and are not interested in fighting. They would rather use their own empowerment to balance the feminine and the masculine. Another explanation may also be connected with the fact that the Goddess, and one may treat that as an equivalent of women’s power, in Judeo-Christianity, has been living “in hiding,” which is now coming to its end. There is a noticeable women’s spiritual awakening, which is aimed to balance the feminine and masculine, to raise the feminine so that they are both on the same level and neither gets excluded or diminished…

Okey dokey.

H/t: Andrew Sullivan

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Jul/12

15

A Question of Identity (ctd)

More on this story (from the Guardian):

Proposals to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army, ending an exemption that has lasted for 64 years, are bitterly dividing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition government ahead of a crucial debate on Monday.

A new bill allowing the draft is due to be submitted for its first reading in the Knesset, following a ruling by the country’s supreme court that the Tal Law, exempting Haredi Jews from military service, was unconstitutional. That law is due to expire on 1 August, but what will replace it has become the subject of ferocious argument over one of the most sensitive issues in Israeli society…

Yaakov Uri, who runs a pizza parlour in Geula, an Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem, said the problem was that secular Israelis like Yosam had no understanding of the sacrifices religious Jews make for them. “You think it’s so easy to sit and study all day, bring up seven children on $700 a month? No, it’s very hard,” he said.

These men, in his opinion, are as critical for the defence of Israel as the army. They provide spiritual protection. “The Torah is saving and guarding the Jews,” Uri said. “Take the Iraq war. Saddam Hussein sent 39 Scud missiles into Israel. They didn’t touch anyone. What is this? It wasn’t the army – they sat with their arms folded. It was the Torah,” he said. “There many kinds of soldiers, on planes, on ships, but also in the yeshiva.”

As a compromise, he suggested that yeshiva students who were not truly devoted to Torah studies – around one-third, he thought – should serve in the army. But this was provided, of course, that they were served kosher food, given enough time to pray and segregated from women.

Okey dokey.

There are points when religious freedom becomes religious privilege, and this is one of them.

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Jul/12

15

Against the Hotel/Porn Axis

Via the Daily Mail:

A Christian scholar and a Muslim leader have teamed up to ask hotel chain[s] to stop offering pay-per-view porn.
Robert P. George, Princeton University professor and former chairman of the Christian group the National Organization for Marriage wrote a letter to hotel owners along with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, the founder of Zaytuna College, a Muslim university.

Both men requested that the hotels ‘do what is right as a matter of conscience’ and stop selling pornography to guests.
They say that as a conservative Christian and a devout Muslim, the pair have a lot to disagree on. However, on this issue they are of one mind, CNN reports.

‘We appeal to you not on the basis of truths revealed in our scriptures but on the basis of a commitment that should be shared by all people of reason and goodwill: a commitment to human dignity and the common good,’ they write in the letter.

Milton Friedman:

…The doctrine of “social responsibility” taken seriously would extend the scope of the political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ in philosophy from the most explicitly collectivist doctrine. It differs only by professing to believe that collectivist ends can be attained without collectivist means. That is why, in my book Capitalism and Freedom, I have called it a “fundamentally subversive doctrine” in a free society, and have said that in such a society, “there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

Quite.

Unless they are only addressing owner-managers, what George and Yusuf are suggesting is a little obscene itself. Shareholders first, please, gentlemen.

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